It is not an anomaly for individuals in the United States to be followed by a black mark for the near entirety of their lives. This mark takes the form of a criminal record. Individuals with convictions of just a minor drug possession charge to a petty theft charge can permanently have their lives damaged, even for these minor infractions.
According to Prison Policy Initiative (PPI), in Utah, more than 14,000 people serve time in Utah’s prisons and studies show that in totality 1 in 4 Utahns have a criminal record.
These ex-offenders, specifically, face an exceptionally challenging time finding stable, gainful employment. Much of this difficulty can be attributed to occupational licensing regulations. Across the United States, nearly 30 percent of the workforce needs an occupational license to legally practice their profession, and obtaining one can be extremely beneficial to individuals’ economic standing. With these advantages that licensure carries, it is unfortunate that stringent laws discourage the licensure of ex-offenders.
These laws remain abundant despite ex-offenders paying their debt to society and many wishing for the opportunity to earn an honest living.
In Utah, one of the major roadblocks to employment that ex-offenders face is that incidents that have been deemed as set aside, dismissed as a result of a plea in abeyance, rendered no contest, or received a deferred adjudication from the courts are taken into account when considering licensure qualifications. Considering such legal decisions, none of which equate to a conviction, prevent returning citizens from getting licensed.
Additionally, it is possible for these types of records to appear in state or federal records. This appearance could result in them showing up on a background check. As a result, an isolated event from the past can come back to haunt hardworking Utahns and stop them from achieving licensure in the profession of their dreams.
Several states have already adopted legislative efforts to limit the record-based rejection of qualified workers and overcome the stigma of incarceration. The most recent example of this is the District of Columbia’s “Removing Barriers to Occupational Licensing for Returning Citizens Amendment Act.”
Historically, Utah has enacted bills like SB 95 to expand access to job opportunities so that former inmates’ successful re-entry provides stability, not uncertainty. Still, Utah can do better to promote fairness in its occupational licensing processes.
Utah must no longer allow incidents that have been deemed as set aside, dismissed as a result of a plea in abeyance, rendered no contest, or received a deferred adjudication from the courts to be considered in the issuing of occupational licensing. Instead, only convictions or pending criminal proceedings should be considered.
A conviction in one’s past should not be a nearly insurmountable roadblock to a prosperous future.